Suicide and Salvation
The following is a transcript of the audio.
We have now received almost 100 email questions from our listeners related to the sobering question of Christians, suicide and salvation. Several recent emails related to the suicides of pastors. Andrew, a regular podcast listener from Ankeny, Iowa, writes in: “Pastor John, recently, the family pastor at a local church committed suicide. So what happens to the soul of a professing born again believer who commits suicide? Is this the unforgivable sin? Does this show that the person was never actually a believer because he did not persevere? Or is it possible for someone that commits suicide to still go to heaven?” So Pastor John, these are hard questions, but they are not new to you.
I have been involved closely in several suicides in my life. I cleaned up the basement after the police removed the body of a man who shot himself in the head and I used a broom to sweep the blood (and other stuff) into a dust pan and pour it down the laundry sink so his wife would not have to see what we found. And then I did his funeral five days later. He was a professing believer. I have done a funeral for a young woman who leaped from the window of the locked ward at the hospital down the street from my house where she was being safely kept in her psychological distress. And she died by jumping out of a window.
So let’s be clear now. Self-murder is serious. We are playing with fire here. It is spiritually and eternally serious to murder yourself. It is not a light thing. And anyone listening to me now who is contemplating suicide should hear me say: Don’t do it. There is a better way. I promise you, in the name of Jesus Christ, there is a better way. You don’t feel that, perhaps, right now, but your feelings are not true. They are deceiving you. It is true that God has another way for you. He always makes another way. Wait for him and seek the help you need, because the Bible is very serious about talking of murder.
This is 1 John 3:15: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Now that should scare the wits out of people who are contemplating ending their life with murder. So what does that mean? Eternal life and murder don’t go in the same soul. But let’s be careful now. Let’s not take this farther than it leads. Does he mean that everyone who has a moment of hate is a hateful person? Probably not. Does he mean that everyone who has a murderous moment is a murderer? That is an important question. I doubt it. Yes, the Bible says we must persevere to the end in order to be saved, Mark 13:13. Or Hebrews 3:14. We have come to share in Christ if we hold our confidence firm to the end. That is a very serious warning. But it does not mean that our experience of confidence in God to the end is perfect so that we don’t have lapses of sin which betray that we are not fully trusting Christ. All sin, all my sin, the sin that I do this afternoon, tomorrow, yesterday, is all rooted in some level of distrust in the superior goodness of God. And I don’t go in and out of being a Christian when I sin and that measure of distrust becomes manifest in sinning. I don’t cease to be a Christian.
So saying that we must persevere to the end in confidence doesn’t mean that you must persevere to the end in sinlessness or perfect trust in Christ. There is imperfection in our trust. So the question now is whether a person who commits suicide goes to heaven. That question boils down to this. If a person has been trusting in Christ as their Savior, their Lord, their treasure, does the last act of their life prove the decisive one in showing their true standing as a child of God? There is the key question. Does the last act — in their case murder — count as the decisive one at the judgment day in showing that we were in Christ or not? Is the last act the one that determines if our faith was real? Or do all the other acts of life count as evidence as well?
Let me give you an analogy. This has helped many people as I have shared it. I hope it helps. Suppose that I one night, let’s just say right now, 68 years old, it could be at any point, get so angry at my wife that I storm out of the house. I slam the door. I jump in the car and I head for the road and I am so out of control and so angry, so sinful, let me add, so sinfully angry that I totally misjudge one of these narrow turns here where the telephone poles are about two feet off the road and I smash into that telephone poll going 60 miles an hour and I am dead. Now, my last act was sin, and I killed myself by my sin. I didn’t intend to kill myself, but I did. And it was sin that made it happen. So the last thing I did was sin. Is that last sin decisive in determining whether John Piper was born again?
And my answer is: Not necessarily. In other words, God will look at my life. He will look at my whole life and the evidences of whether I belong to him will be assessed not because of that failure alone any more than any other failure alone. Why would the last one be decisive when the others are just as serious?
So the last question then becomes this: Can a Christian be so depressed and temporarily blinded to the hope of the gospel that he takes his life in a temporary moment of despair? And I think the answer to that is yes. Now that is a judgment call on my part to say that seasons of darkness come and go in the Christian life. It is dangerous to say this because we are all so easily deceived and we should be terrified to try to meet Jesus by means of murder. That is a horrible choice. But between that terror that we should feel about that choice and the hopelessness for the victim of suicide, between those two I am waving a flag of hope that true faith can have a season that dark.
That is very sobering, and I appreciate you sharing your experience and pastoral wisdom in thinking through the many questions on this issue, Pastor John. These are the types of serious and sober questions we get, and try to address on the podcast. For more books and articles and sermons from John Piper, please go to desiringGod.org. At the website you can even find three of his funeral sermons for those who committed suicide, search for the term suicide in sermons. We’ll we will be back tomorrow on a happier note, to talk about the discipline of singing to the Lord — alone. It’s an important part of the spiritual life, and we will be back tomorrow to address it. I’m your host Tony Reinke, thanks for listening to the Ask Pastor John podcast.